Monday, October 24, 2005

A new Shape for Documents:

I read on Slashdot that a certain Barry Norton has proposed we free documents "from the traditions of hierarchy and paper." Norton believes we would be able to write documents that are "far more powerful, with deep and rich new interconnections and properties - able to quote dynamically from other documents and buckle sideways to other documents, such as comments or successive versions; able to present third-party links; and much more."

One of Norton's ideas, clearly, is to let documents take on special structure appropriate to what they're about, but here's another way to apply the idea: documents could be modeled on familiar buildings, even clusters of buildings. Since we understand the structure of common types of buildings, we would know at once where to look in a building-shaped document for specific parts of it. Footnotes and references might be in closets. A novel might use the house model and place some of its parts in the living room, bedrooms, etc. A research paper might be structured like a library or museum. A muck-racking journalistic report might connect the threads of its investigation through sewers to interconnected buildings.

There's a lot to say in favor of using the structure of familiar buildings to make structured information more memorable. Many years ago I came across a similar concept that applies to our computer screens. I'll describe that in my next posting, on Wednesday night or Thursday this week.

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